The five elements of Xingyiquan stripped down

      by James Coons (Please visit to know more)


            Xingyiquan is a fast, versatile and effective style of Chinese martial art that incorporates many important martial arts skills into a relatively limited number of drills and forms. Within Xingyi, the most important practice is known as Wu Xing Quan, or Five Element Fists. These exercises are simple drills practiced on straight or diagonal lines that focus on clear expression of external and internal force. The aspects of force trained in the Wu Xing are both physical and energetic. The practice of the mind within these exercises is every bit as important as the basic physical movements. This article will talk briefly about the type of force manifested in each movement and the mental qualities contained therein.


            Before we can talk about the qualities of the movements, we should introduce and explain the movements themselves. The names are as follows:

* Pi Quan (chopping fist)
* Zuan Quan (drilling fist)
* Beng Quan (smashing fist)
* Pao Quan (pounding fist)
* Heng Quan (crossing fist)


            Each of the different punches of xingyiquan expresses a different kind of trained force (or "jin"). Pi Quan contains the actions of drilling, chopping, and gathering into the center. The drilling action expressed involves shooting the front arm out at mid chest level to the space directly in front of the practitioner. As the hand goes out, it creates a twisting motion through the forearm and upper arm. This motion can be used to disrupt an incoming attack to the face or body and uses the principle of minimal expenditure of effort to effectively stop and attack. After the first movement, the other hand comes up to meet the drilling hand and rubs past it until it is at the very front of the drilling arm. At this point both of the hands overturn. The back hand becomes the front hand and the front hand becomes the back (this is accompanied by a stepping motion that moves the back foot to the front). The front hand chops down and forward while the backhand returns to the area just below the abdomen and hooks up and under. The hooking movement causes the chopping hand to emit more force upon completion of the movement. The chopping motion in Pi Quan is its signature movement and is used to attack the chest or even the face. An auxiliary practice in Pi Quan is to chop upwards towards the face (though the downward chop is practiced more as it is the most important aspect of Pi Quan). After this, both hands are collected back to the body so that they are ready to repeat the movement on the opposite side. The collecting of the hands should not be ignored as an unimportant practice. Actually, this movement of the hands is extremely important. It allows the Xingyi player to have tremendous pulling power, which they can use to seize their opponent and pull them into their fist.


             It can also be used as a self defense application for when they are grabbed forcefully on the forearm. As the hands are retracted, they can pull an opponent down and forward into whatever anatomical weapon the defender decides to use against them.


              Zuan Quan expresses force that drills upward and forward. The main action of Zuan is actually backwards to Pi Quan, in that as the practitioner is stepping forward, the leading hand overturns and is replaced with the other hand, which drills out. In Zuan the idea is to use upward and forward drilling force to go through the opponent's center and hit them with the forearm on the chest or the fist on the chin. Zuan also has a similar gathering application to pi, except that it is less gentle. For Zuan, when the opponent's arm is pulled down, they are pulled into the incoming fist.


            Beng Quan is a vertical fist that is known for its "smashing" quality. Essentially, the fist shoots out at stomach or chest level and has a trajectory like an arrow being shot from a bow. Beng rotates slightly and is designed to have a quark screwing quality that pierces an opponent while also causing blunt trauma. Beng is one of the most useful movements in Xingyi and it combines very well with the chopping action of Pi to allow for combinations of high and low attacks. Another interesting aspect of Beng is that it is accompanied by a half step where the same foot always remains forward, and does not contain the full "chicken step" that is seen in all of the other elements (at least in Hebei style).


           Pao Quan or "pounding fist" is comprised of one hand shooting forward at chest level and the other hand moving back in the shape of a high block to protect the head. However, it should be noted that Pao is not just a rote technique of blocking the head while punching, but is in fact a way of creating a certain kind of force that involves whole body coordination and tearing power. Pao has a style of stepping that involves the same action of stepping as Pi and Zuan, but on a zigzag pattern as opposed to a straight line.


             Heng Quan is also referred to as "crossing" since the fist makes the action of crossing the body and shooting out at a horizontal angle. Heng is accompanied by a step that is similar to Pao, except that it is more horizontal and involves a more obvious circle with the legs. As with all of the elements of Xingyi, Heng has drilling and overturning as its main feature, but it also adds horizontal or indirect force into the mix.


      In terms of energy and "internal power", Xingyi focuses on making the mind active. Each of the fists of Xingyi is related to a specific organ and each of the fists has practices that are related to that organ.

             Xingyi also focuses on transfer of intent through the body and focusing of Qi (Chi), the mind (Yi), and the emotional mind (Xin).


            Regarding the practice of the internal organs in Xingyi, it should be noted that the organs themselves do not serve a function in the creation of force, but instead that the large anatomical area around the organs is used to generate power. Within Pi Quan, the lungs are said to be the seat of power. When working on force with the lungs, the chest is rounded and the rib cage is used to produce power. Zuan Quan uses the lower back in the area of the kidneys. Beng Quan focuses on the hips or the area that Chinese medicine designates as being around the liver. The hips are turned maximally and allow for Beng to shoot out like and arrow and smash through its intended target. Pao Quan is considered to be the domain of the heart and therefore when executing Pao Quan, the chest always turns with the force. Pao has an extended force because the body makes itself longer via the turning of the chest. Heng Quan is related to the Spleen and thus focuses on turning the waist in the direction of the force being emitted In this sense the waist is seen as being separate from the hips and work independently of them (though the hips also move in Heng).


             The practice of intent in Xingyi practice is somewhat difficult to describe, but involves focusing the mind on the action at hand, while also concentrating on the real, or imagined target that is being struck. Generally the intent will focus on three things. The first is the actual movement. The mind must drive each movement and there must be a focus on the end of the movement and the power created. Second, the intent must be placed on the Qi that is being emitted with each movement (IE: the mind must focus on bringing Qi to the attacking extremity). And finally attention must be placed on the actual physical place that the movement is coming from (IE: heart, spleen etc....). When these aspects are brought together with the external physical movement, it can be said that the movements are well coordinated and powerful.


             Xingyiquan players should be very concerned with coordinating both external and internal powers to create the most effective techniques. The main practice of Xingyiquan is to focus a large amount of force in a very small area. All of the physical, energetic, and mental practices of Xingyi are designed to produce tremendous physical force while maintaining a relaxed posture and a clear mind.


            I hope this article will be of some use to people as a means of describing some of the basic practices of Xingyiquan. Good luck in your practice!